Via The Game Changing Attorney Podcast with Michael Mogill: For over 30 years, attorney Mike Papantonio has created a well-earned reputation as someone who will go toe-to-toe with unethical corporations and fight for consumers.
*This transcript was generated by a third-party transcription software company, so please excuse any typos.
Mike Papantonio: You’re going to get into this business and you’re going to understand that these people are sociopaths, they’re criminals. They don’t look like criminals because they’re dressed up in Armani suits and they have Rolex watches and drive Bentleys. But that’s who you’re across the table from.
Michael Mogill: Welcome to a special edition episode of the Game Changing Attorney podcast recorded live at the Evolve Summit. This episode features a conversation with hall of fame trial attorney, and senior partner of Levin Papantonio, Mike Papantonio.
Mike Papantonio: You’re not across the table from some person who ran into somebody’s car accidentally, and you have documents that I couldn’t make up if I wrote them myself, that’s lawyering, gang, that’s real lawyering.
Michael Mogill: I’m Michael Mogill, founder and CEO of Crisp Video, the nation’s number one law firm growth company. I’ve built my business through practice, not theory. Crisp started, which just $500 to my name and has grown to over eight figures in revenue over the last few years, earning a spot on the Inc 500 list of the fastest growing private companies in America. Our approach has been to take everything we’ve learned about generating massive growth within our own organization and help the country’s most ambitious and committed law firm owners do the same for theirs. And each episode of this podcast, I sit down with innovative market leaders from the legal industry and beyond to learn from those who thrive in the face of adversity, challenge the status quo and define what it means to be a true game changer. I sat down with Mike Papantonio to discuss the dangers of being average, why you should embrace criticism and how being comfortable can be detrimental to your success.
Mike Papantonio: Being too comfortable draws you in to just average, doesn’t it? What ends up happening is people end up just becoming so average. They become so focused that they have burnout.
Michael Mogill: That’s coming up on the Game Changing Attorney podcast. Mike Papantonio is a legendary trial attorney, television and radio host, best-selling author and someone who isn’t afraid to speak his mind on the issues he’s most passionate about. I kicked off my conversation with Mike by asking him what the catalyst was behind him taking on such ambitious endeavors.
Mike Papantonio: First of all, it starts with a vision. I’m, I’m in Pensacola, Florida. It’s not a big city. So, you know, the idea was to build something that had a national scope and what ends up happening so often is that, that people look at their situation. They said, I, I’m kind of I’m here. I have to dig into what I’ve been handed down. I don’t know why that’s so typical of lawyers. But one time I wrote a book in, in the early days it was, it was called, In Search of Atticus Finch. I had some shrinks look at some questionnaires that we sent out to a bunch of lawyers. The shrinks came back and I said, well, what is the biggest problem that lawyers have where it comes to being innovative? Where it comes to accepting change? Where it comes to doing something that Mary or Bob or Sally down the road is something different. And they said, it’s fear of rejection. They said, lawyers, and the numbers were, Michael, the numbers were startling. They were, it’s the fear of failure.
And so what they end up doing is they, you know, they get this coffee cup that’s been handed down to them for generation after generation. And I always want to tell them, take that coffee cup and throw it up against the wall, crash it up against the wall and do something different. That’s where mass torts came from. That’s where we, when we started Mass Torts Made Perfect. The idea was we had a national reach. Let’s go ahead and take advantage of that national reach and make it bigger. Some people bought in. I was seeing, I saw Mark O’Mara out there, matter of fact, when I came in and I saw Shunnarah. Those are two people, I said, why don’t you try mass torts? And they did. And it changed a lot, a lot about their practice. It’s a mystery to me, why we would have people who are such type A personalities that choose to put themselves in a type B world and do everything the way everybody else does it. I don’t have an answer for it, but I can tell you that’s the problem.
Michael Mogill: And I know you say the fear of rejection. If you could speak to, you know, there’s the saying that everything worthwhile is an uphill climb. And if you could talk about maybe some of the rejection you faced on the way up, it seems like everything you do there’s to be someone criticizing it. There’ll be some naysayer.
Mike Papantonio: You want to welcome criticism. Criticism comes out a lot of times because you’re doing that thing that they don’t have the courage to do, that they’re not willing to take. Let me tell you a quick story. Let me shift it just a second. Years ago, I was, we put on the national trial lawyer program, Keith Givens and I owned that program down in Miami and along with Mass Torts Made Perfect, but I saw you come on stage. Okay. Now I’ve seen a lot of vendors over the years, but you looked different, Michael, you had a vision. What you were talking about connected with me because it was something that I wasn’t hearing. And I mean, I’m in here, I’m sitting here in this studio, what, six years later, and this is what you were talking about. So it has to begin with that notion of, I want to do something dramatically different. You’ve done it, you’re exhibit A where it comes to vendors and truthfully everybody on these cameras, everybody watching this right now, I tell them, reach out, do something that raises your vision, man.
Everybody’s doing, weighing on 1-800-Crash. Everybody’s doing comp. Everybody’s doing the same thing. And we have this license to be so creative. We have this license to change culture. When we started the tobacco litigation, Pensacola, Florida. I mean, think about that. Opioids started in Pensacola, Florida, 48 of the biggest pharmaceutical cases in the country started in Pensacola, Florida, 8 of the largest environmental cases, Pensacola, Florida. But it starts with that, it starts with that, what do I want to be when I grow up, you know? You know, your best, you know, the best color you could wear is plaid. That should be your favorite color, plaid. And that, what I mean by that is there’s many different parts of being a lawyer. So use that license. Come out to Mass Torts Made Perfect. You had, you had it, right. You know, there’ll be 2000 people in a room and I’ll talk about, let me use an example, Roundup.
You were out there when we’re talking about Roundup. I said, go get these cases. They’re important cases. Maybe after I did that, maybe 10 lawyers in 2000 got real serious and went after them. The opioid chase, right? You were out there when that big fight was taking place, Pap, you know, Papantonio, you can’t do this. You can’t, you can’t represent counties and cities and sue the distributors. And the people who said, that’s a pretty good idea, what is there $26 billion on the state, on the table right now? Just for one part of that case. So it’s just a matter of saying, why am I stuck in this merry-go-round. You got out of the merry-go-round, you see, you could have done the same thing everybody else did, but you didn’t.
Michael Mogill: So you’re looking back at that, at that national trial, so I knew we had to get attention somehow. I wanted to get your attention.
Mike Papantonio: Oh, you got my attention, brother.
Michael Mogill: We were giving away that, that Tesla model X, and it was a hundred thousand dollars which to me then, I mean, I will tell you, it may be $10 million. And the interesting thing, and we were giving this car away at national trial lawyer, we couldn’t even like, so I put all the money into the car to get your attention. We couldn’t even stay at the low’s. I couldn’t afford to stay at the most. We stayed at another hotel. You know, we gave the car away, but like years later.
Mike Papantonio: What is that? Drill down on that. It’s courage. It’s your ability to abandon fearfulness and say, why can Papantonio go up the Ohio River Valley and try a case that makes a billion dollars? Why can Papantonio do the tobacco case and I can’t? You just have to change your thinking. Everybody watching this right now, maybe there’ll be a handful of them that’ll say, I get it. Let me raise my vision. Let me look at something bigger than auto cases. I’m not down on auto cases. God bless you. Someone’s got to do that. But what if you’re cleaning up an entire ecosystem where you’re saving 70,000 people from getting cancer? What if you’re pulling a product off the market that’s killing thousands of people because of the bunch of sociopath’s running that corporation could not care less that they’re killing people because they’re making, they’re making so much money? I just took the deposition of the general counsel for 3M. Now I’m going to give you one more tip. Some of y’all are going to do it. Some of you won’t.
3M, the PFAS case, if you live in an area where they have water districts, you know, drinking water districts, go get that case. Because probably that water district is contaminated with PFAS. After depositions we’ve taken in this case, I couldn’t make the documents up. I couldn’t create them for myself. So some of you are going go, you’re gonna make a call and say, I think I know somebody who’s on county commissioner. I want, I want the water district. And you’re going to make 30 to $50 million on one case. That’s what’s, that’s, what’s going to bring in. You’re not going to make that, but you’re going to make whatever kind of contract you have. So see, I love that you’re doing this because in Mass Torts Made Perfect, what we have there is mass torts lawyers. They’re already people who are making a lot of money. You got Shunnarah there, you got O’Mara there. You got God, you got people that have said, I think I can make this transition. And they make the transition and it, you know, changes their life.
Michael Mogill: I want to dig into that because I’m sure there’s people thinking, that sounds great when it works, when the payoff is there. But Mike, what if you know what if I invest all these dollars? What if I do this and it doesn’t work out?
Mike Papantonio: Okay. Here it is. Here it is. I have a program right now. Please write this down. It’s called face-to-face. Go to MTMP, program is called face-to-face. If you have a question about a project that you want to know about, give me a call. We’ll spend 15 minutes on zoom and I’ll tell you, this is the one that’s good, this is the one that’s bad. And what my job is and my, my law firm’s job is A, we’re trial lawyers. We actually visualize these cases is going to trial. That’s different in this business, believe it or not. There’s a lot of people that do this, but there’s only a handful of that actually try the cases. So we look at it. How is it going to try? What are the documents going to look like? Who are the people involved? So we analyze it the same way we analyze a stock that a broker might analyze a stock. So when you call, please do face-to-face. I’ll be glad to talk to you. I’ll tell you, you know, you might want to jump into mesh, but here’s the problems. You might want to jump into Valsartan you might want to jump into Paraquat, but here are the problems. Let me talk about your practice and how you can do that.
Michael Mogill: I saw a couple months back, they were giving away dinner on Mike Papantonio’s yacht. So my question to you is why are you still doing this?
Mike Papantonio: Well, like doing it. There, look, you know, that chart you had, it was startling chart. You just showed it. It was, what was it 1,200,000 lawyers or something like that, out of 1,200,000 lawyers there are only this many trial lawyers left because everybody wants to arbitrate. Everybody wants to settle. The corporations that you’re going to be dealing with if you choose, come to Mass Torts Made Perfect. When is it? October, it’s in October. I don’t know the exact date. It’s out in Las Vegas. It’s at the Bellagio. We’ve been doing it two times a year at either the Wynn hotel or the Bellagio hotel, incredible turnout. But we talk about issues that I think are going to matter to you. Tell you the kind of case we’re talking about, the difference between a typical auto case and kinda of case I’m talking about. Young lawyer, I was, I was about your age and a case comes in where this, this company has, they’re making something called Factor VIII.
Factor VIII was something that you would use, a hemophiliac would use to stop bleeding, right? So they said, I had been trying asbestos cases and so for some reason I was asked get involved with that case, go try it. So the company knew that their Factor VIII product was contaminated with HIV. They knew it. We got them to pull it off the market in the United States. And you know what they did? They sold it all over the world. They sent it to Asia and people died of aids. They sent it to South America and people died of aids. So you ask yourself, doesn’t that case matter? Isn’t that something that really matters to you? You know, you chose to go to law school for certain reasons, use that ticket for cases like that. You know, nobody in that case went to prison, nobody, in the US, they did in France.
But see that’s the problem. That’s what you’re going to be running into. You’re going to get into this business and you’re going to understand that these people are sociopaths. They’re criminals. They don’t look like criminals because they’re dressed up in Armani suits and they have Rolex watches and drive Bentleys. But that’s who you’re across the table from. You’re not across the table from some person who ran into somebody’s car accidentally, and you have documents that I couldn’t make up if I wrote them myself. That’s lawyering, gang. That’s real lawyering.
Michael Mogill: So let me ask you this. When I spoke to Robert Bilot, we had him on the podcast, amazing book, Mark Ruffalo plays him in the movie, Dark Waters. There’s a part in the book when this litigation is really starting to scale and he said, I had to bring in Pap. Like at this point, like I really needed Pap. What is it that you do differently?
Mike Papantonio: I’m very specific. If you go on the, I think it’s trial school college, you’ll see something that’s called an attack deposition. Many of y’all know Ron Motley before he died, he handled asbestos cases out of South Carolina. And I was a young lawyer. I was able to work with Ron and develop this notion of an attack deposition and it’s so unique. Again, there’s only a handful of us that do it. Go watch one. You’ll probably want to say that’s the kind of depo I want to take. I get hired for that. I get hired to try cases as I did for Rob Bilot, who by the way is brilliant, brilliant lawyer. Nobody would pay attention to him and so we finally did and said, let’s go try these cases and a billion dollars later, it worked out.
Michael Mogill: I’d love if you could speak to just so people see really what it takes, what have been some of the biggest mistakes you’ve made? Whether it’s cases you’ve lost, branding mistakes, just what does it look like when Mike Papantonio loses?
Mike Papantonio: Well, cases I’ve lost are ones that I thought I would never lose. It always came down to, came down to hubris most of the time, you know, you get on a run and you’re winning cases and you think you’re bulletproof and you’re not. And so you, you know, you kind of go in with that element of hubris. Where it comes to projects, they’re projects I wish I had done for the right reason and I came full circle on that. Right now, many of you all may know that the human trafficking litigation, we started that up in Ohio. And I wish I had done that the first time it came to me, because I feel like I could have saved a lot of people. But now we’re hot on their trail. We got Wall Street involved. Wall Streets the money behind a lot of it. The big hotels are the big money behind it. And we’re going to spank them really bad. We’re going to punish them. And I wish I had done that earlier.
Michael Mogill: I know you’ve said in the past, you said this a lot, but being too comfortable is a very dangerous thing.
Mike Papantonio: Well, first of all, being too comfortable, it draws you in to just average, doesn’t it? I wrote a book one time, it was called, Resurrecting Aesop. It was a motivational book for lawyers. And in there, what I was trying to explore is what happens when you become too comfortable. When a lawyer does, and I had called on the shrinks again, you know, did a questionnaire. Shrinks, what do you think? And they surprised me again. They said the biggest problem lawyers have with burnout, the reason they end up with drug problems and alcohol problems and five marriages and kids that, you know, they can’t control is because their life isn’t all that balanced. And the reason it’s not balanced is because they’re doing the same thing the same way every single day.
Doesn’t that sound like a Gulag? And so what ends up happening is people end up just becoming so average. They become so focused that they have burnout. It’s the one cause of burnout. So I’m urging you try what I’m asking, just take one step, try one case with me, take one project with me. I see Madeline Pendley right there, she’s with my office. Madeline has been out of school for two years we have her taking the key depositions in some of the biggest cases in America. Why do we do that? Because I believe she has the same ability that a lawyer, elder lawyer has, if she focuses on it. So anybody wants to jump in with me, please do. Come out to Vegas, call me, zoom me on face-to-face. I promise you, I promise you, I promise you it will change the way you practice law.
Michael Mogill: And outside of these, let’s say cases and litigations on the note of, you know, being uncomfortable. What, what keeps you up at night right now?
Mike Papantonio: Right now I’m, let me do full circle. What right now keeps me up is this. Most corporations that we deal with are, have sociopath’s on the other side of the table when I’m taking a deposition. You can’t compromise with a sociopath. Okay. You can’t. So if you can’t compromise with them, what do you have to do? You have to take them to trial. You have to punish them. Otherwise what ends up happening? It perpetuates itself, right? MBA school, Joe’s in MBA school, right? He hears about uncle Ty, or uncle Todd, who pulled it off. He pulled it off. He came up with a product, kept it on the market, a pharmaceutical. He lied to the regulators. He passed money around to politicians. He, he captured the media. And before you knew it, he sold a gazillion of these drugs. And yes, it did kill a thousand people. But uncle Todd made $80 million in the process for himself on his exit from the company. Keeps me up at night that there aren’t enough trial lawyers that will walk into a courtroom and go after these sociopaths, it scares the hell out of me, if you wanna know the truth. Compromise doesn’t do it.
Michael Mogill: And let me ask you honestly, because I remember talking with Robert Bilot, and there was a point in that litigation where they had to wait for years to even get the study back. And like the people they were representing, they’re dying, like they just can’t wait around long enough. And I asked him, because he’s going years, it’s wearing on his family. It’s wearing on his kids.
Mike Papantonio: Oh God, He was with one of the most prestigious defense firms in Ohio. Almost lost his job. His wife thought he had gone batshit crazy. I mean, you know, his whole life was falling apart. But he hung in there. And matter of fact, part of the story, I think it’s in the book that he wrote about, is when he came to me, I said, Robert, you don’t have a case put together. You haven’t taken any meaningful depositions. So what did he do? He went, got back on the horse. He rebuilt the case. Now PFAS may be, matter of fact, last week we potentially, and I think we will get hired to handle the PFAS case in Brussels and we’ll handle in Europe. And that’s another thing here. You’re sitting here, God, I’m looking at all you folks. I mean, you’re millennials and younger.
You got a whole career ahead of you. By the time your career is over, you’re going to be practicing law in Europe. Globalism is going to pull you right into all that. So go ahead and get started now. Look ahead. Do it now though, you, when you can do it. Don’t get caught into a practice where you, look, forgive me if they’re are defense lawyers out there, all right, but defense lawyers have a certain mentality. They come out of school. They’re top of their class, you know, they’re law review. And they are just, you know, they, they got all the right stuff for a corporate defense firm that’s want, that wants to put them in a cubicle, like a damn veal, okay. They’re in a cubicle and they stay in that cubicle for 15 years. They never distinguish themselves. They never do anything that moves the dial ahead for consumers.
Their victory is when they come back to the office and say, hey, I wrote an opinion that kept this family from recovering when mama was killed by a bad drug. Why does a person do that? Why does a person say I’m better suited for a defense firm? You know why, it comes back to rejection. They get out of school. The defense firm takes them to the country club and everybody’s patting bill who’s been around for 50 years and he’s the premier defense firm head lawyer. And they get sucked into that like that matters. Who cares? Who cares? You got to have iconoclast. I’ve heard you use terms like that. You gotta be an iconoclast, right? That’s what you are.
Michael Mogill: It’s a big, big word.
Mike Papantonio: It’s a big word. It’s a big word and it’s a big requirement. But that’s the difference between a defense firm, a defense lawyer and a plaintiff’s lawyer. Now let me take it one step further. If you are that person and you know that you’re a plaintiff’s lawyer, right? You’ve chosen to be different from that defense lawyer. So why be average? Go ahead and take the next step. Rather than trapping yourself. You are A type a personality forcing yourself into a type B world and it doesn’t work. It makes you miserable.
Michael Mogill: So I’m curious, like, you know, when someone’s on the way up, let’s say in their career, they don’t have much to lose. You can understand that, you know that drive, if you will, because they’re trying to make something of themselves. They’re trying to build their brand. They’re trying to build their practice. But what happens when you get to a point where you don’t need this anymore morning, and this is what I wanted to ask you because I remember talking to Robert about this. You get to a point where like, you’re dealing with, against a corporation that’s got billions of dollars of resources, you’re putting in all this time and energy, making all these sacrifices. Like, missing out on time with your family, you know, just there’s trade-offs and compromises everywhere. And do you ever think to yourself, do I really need this, right?
Mike Papantonio: Let me tell you something. I’ve never made a compromise with my family. Never. And I never would. You can do both. We got ways to get it done. There’s ways to do both. So I don’t buy into that. I did, burnout is not the same thing as I don’t have time for my family. Burnout is I’m doing this thing that I have learned to hate over 20 years. I’m tired of seeing, you know, these ads where cars are falling out of the damn sky on people’s heads. And, you know, that’s, the best I can do is do a comp case or, everybody watching this has more ability. Again, I’m not down on it. The auto practices is, is critical. Somebody has to do that, but you can do both. So here’s what I say. Here’s what I said to O’Mara, or you know, any of these folks out there that I saw them, I was sitting in the other room with them. I said, make it part of your practice. You don’t have to jump in with both feet, make it part of your practice, take 80% and devote it to your auto practice. Take 20% and say, this is, this is my growth money, 20% is my growth money and invest into things, the projects that if you’ll call me, I’ll tell you about if you’ll show up in MTMP, you’ll see it firsthand. He’s going to be at MTMP. You’re going to hear, you’re not going to give that same speech are you? You got so many speeches, but he’s going to entertain you at MTMP in October. So come on out. Let me, let me talk to you about all this stuff.
Michael Mogill: So you said something interesting. I bet people are wondering this right now. You said you don’t have to make that trade off. So if you could speak to that, like how did, how did you do it, you know, just on the way up for someone wants to get there as quickly as possible?
Mike Papantonio: Okay, here it is, here it is. I used to wind surf competitively. Fairly, I wasn’t very good, but I thought of myself as being competitive and I went, I went down to Pensacola. I didn’t have a job. And I thought I’d bartend at night and wind surf. And what I was really doing and I had plenty of job offers out of school because of the trial program. And they needed trial lawyers from LA to New York. What I was trying to do was first of all focus, where do I want to live? I wanted to talk about my quality of life first, right? And then I want to build all the other parts around that quality of life. So I’ve never lost that sense. You know, I may be in trial for two months at a time, but for a month I’m going to be gone. I’m going to be diving and out on the boat and whatever stuff I do. So, and I’m, it’s gonna include my family. I mean, if you don’t have balance in your family, it’s, it’s dangerous.
So Mark Lanier, a dear friend of mine, he sends me a it’s called Mark’s thought of the day and what it is, it’s a wholesale rejection of what I call, you know, they used to be called cowboy lawyers. Who had the biggest plane? Who had the fastest boat? I mean, you know, it was an ugly time. Who had the biggest verdict? My partner, Fred Levin, I love him to death. He recently passed away and he grew up in that era. Right. But Mark and people like myself and a lot of people that do this very seriously say that it’s not workable. The cowboy era is gone. It doesn’t work anymore. You asked me about, you know, how do I do both for, you have to be committed to it. And I don’t think my daughter, I don’t know if she’s watching right now, I can’t see if she is, but if she’s watching, I don’t think she’d ever tell you that I didn’t spend enough time, you know.
Michael Mogill: With the kids it’s, in your case, like, you could spend more time with them if you take them to work with you, right?
Mike Papantonio: Yeah. My Sara’s working with me now. She’s a lawyer and my gosh, what a talent. She graduated about same time, Maddie Pendley, that whole era from Stetson, just great trial lawyers.
Michael Mogill: And it’s interesting to me, like you mentioned Mark Lanier and yourself and kind of getting out of this cowboy era, but at the same time, so I know Mark is very family focused and yet you’re still seeing that success as a by-product. He’s got the billion dollar verdicts, right?
Mike Papantonio: Of course. It, and you can do, he’s done both. He’s a preacher. I mean, he’s got a church built in his backyard. I mean, come on. So, okay. So what is that? That’s a commitment to who he is, right? And then all these other things are just built around that commitment. And that’s what I think you’ll find whether you’re talking about Michael Watts or some of these other folks that, you know, that try a lot of cases and get big verdicts. Every one of them have that quality.
Michael Mogill: So someone’s watching this right now and they love the idea of being this incredible trial lawyer. They want to build this brand. But they’re not there yet. Like, they’re looking at you and saying, I want to get to where Mike Papantonio is. Where do they start?
Mike Papantonio: They start by taking the first step. I’m not trying to sell Mass Torts Made Perfect. I really am not. I’m not trying to sell face-to-face. There is no cost to it. I’m trying to say you got to make the first step. And after the first step it becomes a habit. And then you want to know more about, okay, well, what’s the next step I take in a mass tort? How do I get the mass tort cases? I have an x limited budget, how do I do that? What cases should I be taking? How do I get on an MDL or a PSC that runs, you know, these things. I hope there’s lawyers watching right now that we’ve done exactly that for where we’ve, we’ve taken from the idea of wanting to do it, to where they’re making, they’re adding five, six, $7 million a year to their practice.
Michael Mogill: You mentor a number of trial lawyers. What are, in your experience, have you seen are some of the biggest mistakes that they make, that there are things that you’re helping to coach them with?
Mike Papantonio: Well, the biggest thing is the commitment. I tell my young lawyers, I said, if you can’t walk into a room and have a thousand people around you and every one of them disagrees with you, everybody thinks you, you know what you’re saying is ridiculous, it’s nonsense, and still feel good. And you know you’re on the right side and still feel good. I’m fine with these people shouting at me. You talked about it over here, didn’t you, when you just gave that speech? You said, people were critical of you in what you were trying to do is accomplish. You had a goal, you had a mission. And if you can’t play that mission out, then you’re never going to be a real trial lawyer. It’s gotta, it’s gotta be real, man. You’ve got to have a real commitment to wanting to help consumers and right now I’m so entangled with my commitment on human trafficking. I, new book comes out. It’s, it’s supposed to be released next month, I think, it’s called, Inhuman Trafficking. And all these books I write are, are based on cases that we’ve handled. You’ll like this book a lot, but as I was writing it, I more and more sold myself on the idea of how much this matters. So I have to do that every day. I have to remind myself what I do matters.
Michael Mogill: You know, as the saying goes, you’ll never be criticized by anyone doing more than you, right? I want to talk about the books though. So these books, these legal thrillers, I remember seeing these like, Law and Addiction and so on. Like, I want to talk about your process when you do this, because I’ve heard you go off and I don’t have to go off into the woods or a cabin, but you are off the grid and then you come back with a book.
Mike Papantonio: I am off the grid for awhile. Well, okay. So they’re easy to write because they’re all based on real events. For example, one of them’s based on the Yaz case, it’s $48 million verdict in South Texas. And that was a, that was a product that was killing women. It was a birth control pill. And so around that actual event comes a pretty good mystery about a bunch of excitement. Second book was built around a whistleblower case. Guy comes in and he’s got a, he says, they’re manufacturing a gun sight, goes on a pistol and rifle, that is defective and it’s killing people. So we handled that case and second book is built around that. Third case, built around the opioid case, right. It’ called, Law and Addiction. So all of it’s pretty easy to do because you kind of go to court that day, right? And you come home, you can make some notes, you create some characters. I love this last one. I really do. I’ve created some great new characters in this last one called, Inhuman Trafficking, distributed by Skyhorse, Simon & Schuster. That’ll be out in about a month.
Michael Mogill: I want to talk about kind of the, the reason why you write these books because, because of the economics, I think of these major litigations and the price they put on a human life, you know, they’ll settle, they’ll spend money, but it, it seems like the, the reason for the documentaries, the books is just raising awareness by the general public. Like, you got to really get it out there because it takes a lot to take down these billion dollar companies.
Mike Papantonio: Yeah. Well, you know, Morris Dees has been a friend a lot of years to me. He wrote the forward on the first book I wrote, In Search of Atticus Finch. He was one of these people that were marching in the streets. People were throwing rocks at him, turning the hoses on him, having dogs sicked on him. So he walked the walk. And I said to him, one time I said, Morris, what is it that changed the whole cycle of civil rights in the country? And he said, well, you’d like to think it’s one event. You’d like to think it’s Rosa Parks sitting on the back of the bus. You’d like to think it’s three men that are sitting at a, having food served at a diner. You might think it’s just this march or that march. He says, it’s all that. It’s all those things that culminate and all of a sudden what you create is this major leap, it’s a major cultural leap. And I have always lived by that. Documentary here, book here, speech here, TV show here, whatever it is, whatever it is. You’re talking about branding. That’s my brand. I mean, I don’t know how else to put it, everything, everything comes into who is that guy, who is that person, and all that centers around my effort to try to get the message out on any one of those projects.
Michael Mogill: What was that moment, or was there a certain point where you, you felt that, okay, now I am, I am this thought leader? Was it after a certain case? Was it after a certain number of initiatives? What was that critical point where you’re like, okay, now I go from not being known to being known?
Mike Papantonio: I’m gonna mess with you a little bit. When did it hit you?
Michael Mogill: It still hasn’t hit me. I don’t.
Mike Papantonio: Oh, come on, it’s hit you.
Michael Mogill: No, no, listen, I’ll be honest with you on this. So I learned something like when you look at two type of people, there are the ones that let’s say the ones that aren’t as driven, the ones that aren’t as hungry, whatever it is, they sometimes always feel like they’re doing too much. But if you look at the most committed, I, what I found in my experience is they constantly feel like they’re not doing enough, constantly.
Mike Papantonio: You’ll always feel like you’re not doing enough. And matter of fact, here’s the way I look at some of these projects. I’ll get a product off the market. I’ll clean up an ecosystem and in back of my mind, I know it’s just going to happen again. There’s always going to be another sociopath or psychopath who’s dressed up in a suit, got an MBA from Yale that just plays by different rules. There’s always going to be that person that looks like that even though we throw a kid in jail who’s wearing a hoodie, selling marijuana on the street corner. There’s always going to be that dichotomy and there’s always going to be that cultural acceptance of that. But I say to myself, I can’t change that infinitum, but I can change it while I’m kicking around. Right. I hope I can train some of these younger lawyers that work with me, they’re excellent lawyers, to carry that on. To say, yeah, we’re going to pick up there. You know, that’s my hope.
Michael Mogill: Let’s talk about that actually, because you’ve gotten to a point where you’re thinking about not just the legacy, but the succession planning. How do we keep this, this movement going? How do we continue to make this impact? Even when you’re seeing transitions within the firm, I know with Fred Levin and so on, like, you want to maintain that impact. What, if you can elaborate on that?
Mike Papantonio: Yeah. Well, first of all, it has to be part of the culture in your firm. You have to believe so much in your young lawyers. They have to give you reason to believe. But you have to say, Maddie, I’m going to throw you into the biggest Zantac depo in America right now. And it’s going to make Maddie work because she cares and she’s gonna, she’s going to do what has to be done. You have to, first of all, believe in that person. Right now, they’re interviewing LaRuby May who’s one of our lawyers in Washington, DC, African-American, brilliant, brilliant young lawyer. Has done more in the area of civil rights than any young lawyer I’ve ever known. So what I’m trying to do now is transition her and have her doing what the firm does as far as changing consumer issues in this country, getting engaged in social issues by way of mass torts. You think about every mass tort the basic is a social issue. I remember a judge just, just a couple of years ago, I made the mistake of saying something awful about some folks.
Michael Mogill: That never happens, right?
Mike Papantonio: It never happens. But they were the people that made decisions in the opioid case. And he brought me in and he probably handled it right. He spanked me a little bit and that was okay. But the point being is that has to be who you are, right? It has to be who you are, it’s got to be, you don’t even think about it. It’s just second nature.
Michael Mogill: So as we look to the future, I want to get your thoughts on, you’re starting to see this, this idea of non-lawyer firm ownership in Arizona, Utah, it’ll spread. What, like looking ahead for the, for the law firm owners that are watching this right now, what, what is your prediction for where this will go?
Mike Papantonio: Okay. I think it’s, I think right now we’re already seeing the edge of something that could be disastrous. We had a case a couple years ago where the lawyer that had gotten money from some money loaning company couldn’t settle his cases because he owed the company too much money. So what we have is these Wall Street freaks, these Wall Street freaks who, oh, by the way, that I’m suing in something as ugly as, as human trafficking, those people are in our office telling us how we’re going to run our practice. I mean, that’s ugly, man. These people have their, they’ve got $3 trillion out there. They, they, they don’t know what to do with it. So they think, well, we’re gonna , we’re gonna call these folks and show up with a big check and everything’s going to be okay. And then they’re going to tell these folks how they can practice law. It’s not just the loan, don’t you, they’re buying equity interests. When the person taking that loan, can’t pay it back, they convert it to an equity interest. What’s going on out there is just the first step to all of us losing our autonomy and to these freaks on Wall Street, who I despise because the bottom of almost every case I handle there’s some Wall Street freak making a decision that’s killing people. Stealing money from mom and pop pension programs. Making decisions to destroy entire ecosystems. I mean, this, that’s who we’re doing business with, man.
Michael Mogill: And I agree with you a hundred percent, Mike. You’re, you’re teeing me up well, because tomorrow this is what we’re spending the entire day on, on how to fight back against this stuff. What, what are your thoughts though?
Mike Papantonio: I found a way to sue them and I’m suing them, okay. We’ll talk more next time we get together and I’ll tell you how it goes, but I’m suing them and I can’t wait to be across the table from them, man. You know, can’t wait. These people don’t invent anything. They don’t make anything. They don’t help anybody. They just want to give you money and then come to you and say, hey, you owe me a, what is it 25% or something stupid that people are paying. You don’t need to do that. Don’t do it. Don’t do it.
Michael Mogill: So Mike, as we close this out, I’m sure like, you’ve gotten a lot of advice along the way on what you should or shouldn’t do. What’s, what’s been the best advice you’ve ever received? What’s been the worst advice you’ve ever received?
Mike Papantonio: Best advice I ever got was go to trial, Mike, go to trial, Mike, go to trial, Mike. Worst advice, I guess, I don’t think I’ve ever had any bad advice.
Michael Mogill: Come on. I get bad advice all the time.
Mike Papantonio: I, I don’t know that I have, I can’t think of it if I have. Whatever advice I took, I either, if I thought it was bad advice, I’d throw it out the window.
Michael Mogill: Has anyone ever told you, like, Mike don’t do that?
Mike Papantonio: Oh, yeah. I’ve had don’t do that before.
Michael Mogill: Don’t say that.
Mike Papantonio: Oh, come on, man. You know that. I’m on TV every week on a international show called America’s Lawyer where I used to do MSNBC and almost every, every time I appeared, they said, I can’t say that, I can’t do that because you’re going to offend our advertiser. So I went to Russian television and started doing America’s Lawyer.
Michael Mogill: And I’m sure you had critics and naysayers say, Mike, don’t do that, it won’t be good for the brand.
Mike Papantonio: Oh, they’ve. Yeah, they think calling me Balasevic. I don’t care. Come on.
Michael Mogill: Well, there you go. So if someone could take away one thing from everything that we’ve talked about besides, you know, sign up for MTMP, what would it be?
Mike Papantonio: Call me on Facebook, Zoom me on Facebook. I want to meet as many of you as I can. I’ll take as much time as it takes. We’ll have 15, 20 minutes. I’ll spend as much time as you want.
Michael Mogill: I want to give a huge thank you to Mike Papantonio for taking the time to speak with us at the Evolve Summit. You know, what particularly resonated with me was when Mike said that being too comfortable draws you into average. And that if you want to achieve significant goals, you need to get comfortable being uncomfortable. You’ve been listening to the Game Changing Attorney podcast with me, Michael Mogill. If you enjoyed this episode I’d really appreciate it if you could share the podcast with at least one other ambitious law firm owner, who you believe would benefit and you know what, maybe more than one. For more information on our fireside chat with Mike Papantonio, see the show notes for this episode in your podcast app or visit gamechangingattorney.com. And join us next time when we’ll be speaking with one of the country’s leading trial attorneys who has amassed not millions, but billions of dollars of jury verdicts, the one and only, Brian Panish.
Brian Panish: You know, whether you’re really rich or really poor, if you really have that desire, it doesn’t matter. It’s all about the passion. And when you’re trying cases, the jurors know, they can see it when you believe it and you’re asking for a lot of money and they can see you believe it, they got a lot better chance to get there.
Michael Mogill: That’s next time on the changing attorney podcast.